Against my better judgment, I thought I might take a stab at predicting the 2003-2004 Iowa men's basketball season, game by game.
Back in the ‘MillerTime' email newsletter days, I started my prognosticating career with a bang, calling for Steve Alford's first Hawkeye squad of 1999-2000 to finish 14-15. That team ended up finishing 14-16, so not a bad call.
Then came 2000-2001 and I called for the Hawkeyes to win 24 games that season. They won 23.
But alas, the wheels fell off in 2001-2002, as they did for everybody. I had Iowa at 28-5 after the Big Ten tournament with more room for wins in the Big Dance.
That team won 19 games and lost 16 and didn't even make it to the NCAA Tourney.
I blame that season for my 7-5 football prediction of 2002, as well. I was discombobulated or something like that, big time, as Reggie Evans would say.
Prior to the start of last season, I felt the Hawkeyes would struggle, as most people did and picked them to finish 12-16. The short handed Hawkeyes surprised us all by finishing 17-14 and gave us a special treat in the NIT when they beat Iowa State in Ames in what would be Larry Eustachy's final game as the Cyclones head coach.
Which brings us to the 2003-2004 season.
You will have to give me a pass on UNC-Asheville and just trust me that I was going to predict a Hawkeye win. I did not expect Iowa to come out and throw 107 points on the board and exceed last season's single game best numbers for assists, rebounds, three-pointers made, free throws attempted and made and points in a game, however.
Drake: Dr. Tom's return game to Iowa City…Drake allowed Simpson College to shoot better than 50-percent in the Bulldog's season opening win. Iowa might win this game by 30 or more. But then again, you have to wonder if the good doctor has some magic tucked away somewhere? Sorry, but David Copperfield could not help his Drake program at this juncture, especially with Luke McDonald no longer on the team. WIN: 2-0
Louisville @ Indianapolis: Iowa and Louisville have played just twice in their history, including at the 1980 Final Four. Iowa has lost both games to the Cardinals. Denny Crum was the coach the last time these two teams met up, and now Rick Pitino is the head bird. This will be Louisville's first game of the season. They are ranked in the Top 20, but I think Iowa comes out and is able to pick up a win on a ‘neutral' court at the John Wooden Tradition and make their first statement of the year. Maybe Steve Alford could borrow Kirk Ferentz's Alamo Bowl celebratory line after the game and say ‘The Hawks are Back! Here we go!' Or maybe not just yet. WIN: 3-0 (NOTE: I still get chills when I think of Kirk saying that back in 2002. I remember how it struck me as being unlike Kirk when he said it. Of course, he was right).
Wisconsin-Green Bay: WIN 4-0
Gazette Hawkeye Challenge: Eastern Washington v Iowa, Illinois-Chicago v Northern Illinois I look for Iowa and UIC to advance. UIC is predicted by many to win the Horizon, the league that former Hawkeye assistant coach Bruce Pearl is located. UIC is coached by none other than former Illini assistant Jimmy Collins, not to be confused with the GMAC Jimmy. Collins and Pearl were at the heart of the ‘Deon Thomas' affair back in the late 1980's that ultimately landed Illinois on probation for a bit and that has caused the blood to boil over between Hawkeye and Illini fans ever since. Collins probably still boils over when he sees black and gold. This should be a stiff challenge for Iowa and a game that they had better not overlook. 2 WINS: 6-0 Iowa cracks the Top 25 for the first time this season.
@UNI The Panthers are a little more stocked at guard this year and they have several former Iowa schoolboy players on their roster this year, including rookies Grant Stout, Adam Viet and Brooks McKowen. McKowen was Iowa's ‘Mr. Basketball' last year and became the state's all time leading scorer. UNI has some solid front court players as well. This game scares me a bit, as the UNI Dome has been a trap for Iowa early on in games. Since this series became a ‘home and home' set in 1990, Iowa has played in Cedar Falls seven times. They have lost three times and in the four games they have won, the margin of victory has been eight, five, five and 23 points. Still, I think Iowa wins the game this year. WIN: 7-0
Texas Tech @ Dallas: Another ‘neutral court' setting for Iowa, deep in the heart of Texas. Student against teacher. Anakin v Kenobi. Luke v Darth. Since Iowa's 1986-87 team started that season 18-0, there have only been three other Hawkeye teams to start a year with eight straight wins. I am not expecting this season to be one of them. I just hope we do not see Bobby Knight give the ‘guns up' symbol. LOSS: 7-1
Eastern Illinois: WIN: 8-1
@ Missouri The Tigers have the NCAA officials swarming around their basketball complex and they will play with that dark cloud over their heads this season, but I do not expect any ruling to come out regarding Quin Snyder's gifts to Ricky Clemmons and all that rigamarole until late in the season. Missouri is a talented club and Columbia is a tough place to play. Pierre Pierce will face his first major verbal assaults of the year from the ‘Antlers'. LOSS: 8-2
Purdue: Gene Keady's team is a lot like Iowa's this year. He gets some new blood on his team, some players that are familiar with the program return and he has a deep backcourt. This is going to be a team that will be tough to beat in West Lafayette for Iowa. WIN: 9-2
Northwestern: WIN: 10-2
Now comes a very tough stretch of games for Iowa. The next three games are all on the road in a span of eight days. The Hawkeyes will play five of their next seven league games on the road, including six of eight on the road overall.
@Minnesota: Kris Humprhies seems to be a talent, but there are not a lot of scoring options that I see. Iowa needs to hammer home their advantage in the paint in this game. WIN: 11-2
@Illinois: Never an easy place for Iowa to pick up a win. The Hawks have won just once in Chambana since the miracle comeback in 1987. Pierre Pierce will hear it from this crowd more than at any other venue. Let's hope the Big Ten's edict on sportsmanship from student sections is enforced here, but I doubt it. That is like expecting the inmates in Joliet to adhere to the rules of no drugs or weapons.LOSS: 11-3
@ Iowa State: Gone is Larry Eustachy, but conveniently for Iowa State, Tim Barnes and Jackson Vroman are expected to be in the lineup for this game. That is of course if they attend their classes and Vroman stays out of…never mind. Wayne Morgan should have a solid team this year, but I think the Hawkeyes will handle ‘Hilton Magic'. WIN: 12-3 Iowa is in the Top 20.
Ohio State: I just hope that Jim O'Brien's vocal chord problems heal. He is one of the best coaches in the nation and a man that I respect a great deal. WIN: 13-3
@ Michigan I think the Hawkeyes hit a road bump here in Chrysler Arena, which has been a true of horrors for the Hawkeyes. This has been the most difficult place for Iowa to win at for a long, long time, and the numbers bear that fact. LOSS: 13-4
Penn State: While the Nittany Lion basketball team will win more games than their football counterparts, not always a given, they will not win many games in the league this year. WIN: 14-4
@ Michigan State: On the road again. Ugh. LOSS: 14-5
@ Indiana: See above. LOSS: 14-6
Wisconsin: Home sweet home, right? But the Badgers are very, very good. But there are just some games where I feel the Hawkeyes will win when my head tells me they should not, like last week in Camp Randall. WIN: 15-6
Michigan: This should be a great game on Valentine's Day. It is an afternoon affair, so be sure to bring your significant other and start this day off with a bang. WIN: 16-6
@ Ohio State: I just like Iowa in this game. They have had some success on the road at Ohio State in the new building. WIN: 17-6
Illinois: Iowa has won three of its last four games against Illinois in Iowa City, including two in a row. Last year's team had no business beating the highly ranked Illini in Iowa City, yet they did. They will again. WIN: 18-6 Iowa is in the Top 15.
Minnesota: WIN: 19-6
@ Northwestern: The Hawkeyes reach the 20 win mark against the Cats. WIN: 20-6
@ Purdue: I told you that the Boilers were going to be tough in their joint. The Gene Pool, which is the best name for a student group, will be a rockin. LOSS: 20-7
So there you have it. 9-2 out of conference, 11-5 in the Big Ten, probably good for third or fourth place in the league.
Alford rights the ship and gets things headed back to the way they were during the decades prior to his arrival and then he can work on ‘the next level'.
This team should do no worse than 1-1 in the B10 tourney and no worse than a 5 seed if they win that many games, and at least 1-1 in the Big Dance. So if that came to fruition, I am looking at 22-9. 22 wins would tie several teams with the fourth-best single season win total in school history.